January 12, 2015
Paraguayan-Haitian Partnership Success!


Petionville and Verettes, Haiti

January 9 & 10, 2015

Paraguay-Haitian Partnership

Our Haitian students with a family of supporters gathered after their jubilant graduation celebration in Verrettes. From left: Andrenese Juste, Estevenson Stephens (graduated December 2014), James Pierre (will graduate December 15), Minocienne Cherestal (will graduate December 15), Lorson Ovilmar, Mrs. Lorson Ovilmar, Sara Hall (for Karen Ansara), Widancia Charles (graduated December 2014), Pierre Noel, Joel Theodat, Riche Zamor, Flore Daniel.

At two separate ceremonies attended by dignitaries, educational professionals and donors today and tomorrow, four Haitian high school students from Verrettes and Ile a Vache, Haiti – Widancia Charles, Estevenson Stephen, Minociene Cherestal and James Pierre — were honored for excelling in a unique partnership in entrepreneurial education sponsored by Fundacion Paraguaya. Designated as aspiring young business leaders for rural Haiti, the students have spent three years learning entrepreneurship for rural economies at Escuela San Francisco de Asis, a boarding school in Cerrito, Paraguay with businesses embedded within it. Students receive diplomas as agriculture/livestock technicians or hotel/tourism technicians. Intensive academic studies alternate with hands-on work in animal husbandry, dairy production, bio-intensive vegetable gardening, bee-keeping, nursery cultivation and hotel management.

The San Francisco Agriculture School is the original flagship school for scores of schools around the world referred to as “Teach-a-Man-to-Fish” schools and conceived by Paraguayan social entrepreneur Martin Burt. The partnership between Haitian philanthropists Pierre Noel, Jean-Patrick Lucien, myself and Martin Burt was initiated at the Opportunity Collaboration, a global business retreat to end poverty, in Mexico in 2011. It was made possible due to the generosity and dedication of innumerable staff of Fundacion Paraguaya and the San Francisco School who invested in our young Haitian leaders.

The partnership has been directed by the extraordinary Haitian educator and cultural ambassador, Joel Theodat. Today’s ceremonies were arranged by Joel, Riche Zamor, Regine Theodat, and Juste Andreneste. (My remarks below were read in my absence.)


This first week of January when we celebrate the leadership and liberation of the people of Haiti,[1] I recall the inspiration of a great slave leader and liberator from the United States, Harriet Tubman. Four decades after Haitian independence in 1804, yet years before the Emancipation Proclamation in the U.S., Harriet Tubman escaped from slavery. She then returned to slave territory to lead thirteen secret missions to rescue seventy other enslaved family and friends

Guided by her fervent faith in a just God, she followed the North Star at night to lead her brethren to a new life. She had help from friends along the way, who provided protection via a circuit of safe houses known as the Underground Railroad. Yet, it was her own dreams of freedom that gave her the courage to change the lives of others – and through outspoken advocacy to change the moral course of human history.

“Every great dream begins with a dreamer,” she said. “Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”

Today we honor four young dreamers, and those who have helped them along the way. But make no mistake: it has been the dreams, the strength, the patience and the passion of Widancia Charles, Estevenson Stephen, James Pierre and Minociene Cherestal that have brought them to where they are today. They reached for the stars and now with their superior education have the knowledge and skills to change their worlds — and ours.

haiti students in paraguay

Widancia Charles, James Pierre, Minociene Cherestal and Estevenson Stephen in Paraguay.

Our students‘ education in Paraguay has fulfilled the dream of another greater leader, Martin Burt, founder of Fundacion Paraguaya.[2] Nearly 15 years ago the Foundation acquired an agricultural vocational high school from the Franciscan brothers, those who serve the poor and cherish nature. Just like in Haiti, in Paraguay students with high school degrees often can’t find jobs. So Martin and the Foundation decided to train students to create their own businesses, business suited for rural communities, ones that would stimulate rural economies. They would learn entrepreneurship and business management by working at profitable enterprises embedded within the schools, businesses like produce farms and markets, dairy farms and processing plants, and hotels and eco-lodges. What could Haiti, with two-thirds of its population residing in rural areas, need more than these? In fact, so many countries need entrepreneurial education for rural youth that Martin Burt’s dream has been replicated in boarding schools around the world. They are called “Teach-a-Man-to-Fish” schools based on the proverb that poverty can only be solved by teaching people to fish rather than handing them fish as charity.

After the earthquake Martin Burt was invited to Haiti by the Qatar Foundation and the Ministry of Education to describe how this educational model could help Haiti. When our four exceptional students were invited to attend the Teach-a-Man-to-Fish school in Paraguay, it was in hopes that they could eventually help establish a similar school in Haiti. That dream has yet to be realized, but they are already leaders among their peers.

Just as Harriet Tubman had many allies who helped her lead others to freedom, many individuals at Fundacion Paraguaya and the Escuela San Francisco de Asis have been shepherds to our students. They include the Paraguay Foundation’s director, Luis Cateura, and administrators Sara Hooper, Mary Liz Kelher and Carolina Ortega; the school’s principal, Luis Resquin; the students’ mentors and hosts, Rodrigo Esquivel and countless teachers too numerous to mention. Their innumerable acts of service to Minociene, James, Estevenson and Widancia have been their gifts to you – to the citizens of Haiti – because they believe these four students embody Haiti’s future. Likewise, a team of wise counselors in Boston and Haiti invested many hours in the early days of this partnership. They included Pierre Noel and Elie LaFortune of the Haiti Fund at the Boston Foundation, Jean-Patrick Lucien of EDEM Foundation on Ile a Vache, Dr. Benjamin Mays and Lorson Olvimar of FAMILY, Inc. in Verettes, Federique Pierre, formerly of the Ministry of Haitians Living Abroad, and several Boston philanthropists including Sara Hall, Kristen Atwood, Stephanie Dodson, Beth Floor and myself.

group photo in paraguay

Rodrigo Esquivel (center) and the gang!

Most significant to our students’ success, however, has been their mentoring by a great Haitian educator, Joel Theodat. Joel was raised in Tabarre and educated in Boston, where he eventually directed the bilingual education program in English and Haitian Creole at a public high school for 25 years. More recently he taught Haitian Creole language and culture at the University of Massachusetts, until he returned to his beloved Haiti in 2010 to help her recover from the tragic earthquake.

Joel and students

Joel Theodat and the graduates.


Joel’s resume can never adequately describe his heart for his students. All Joel’s efforts are focused on helping his students express their dreams and follow their own North Stars.

Thanks to the generosity of Fundacion Paraguay, Joel lived with our students in Paraguay during their first year there. Without his guidance over the past three years they may not have thrived. Imagine doing what they have done: traveling back and forth from rural Haiti to a different continent; learning not one but two new languages (Spanish and the indigenous Paraguayan language, Guarani); integrating socially with youth from a radically different culture; working hard in the fields, in the barns and in a school-run hotel; developing computer literacy; and studying intensely in the classroom. Now our two eldest students – Widancia and Estevenson — have crossed the last threshold: they each have presented a promising business plan to entitle them to graduate. And they each – get this – have graduated near the top of their entire class! Our exemplary Haitian students, strong in mind and character, have made us proud. Next year we will eagerly await the graduation of Minociene and James, as well.

As Harriet Tubman proclaimed, “Every great dream begins with a dreamer.”  What are your dreams for our beloved Haiti? What are the dreams of Haiti’s young people? Let the dreaming begin with these strong, patient, and passionate young leaders here: our four Haitian students and all the students who will present their dreams to us today. They are reaching for the stars. Through education they will free Haiti! They will change their world… and ours.


[1] Haiti gained its independence from the French state on January 1, 2804, becoming the world’s first Black Republic, after years of uprising by slaves and former slaves.

[2] Fundacion Paraguaya conducts numerous programs to end poverty, from microfinance to entrepreneurship training programs. http://www.fundacionparaguaya.org.py/?lang=en